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>> Interview: Louise Bourgeois
>> Career Women and Material Girls
>> The Legend's Burden: Eva Hesse
>> Close Up: Katharina Sieverding

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It is this divide that frames her work and writing – Bourgeois often includes text in her visual work and has kept a copious diary from a very young age. Split between the need for a hero to eliminate and her desire to "twist the neck" of an immovable obstacle: her father’s lover, Louise Bourgeois is perched between a "violent reciprocity." As the writer Rene Girard states: "violent reciprocity is the acting out of rivalry between brothers or a father and son socially held in check by the institution of kinship. The terms of the violent exchange, 'subject' and 'object' are engaged in rivalry." Speaking about her sculpture Janus Fleuri, done in 1968, Bourgeois notes: "The polarity I experience in a drive toward extreme violence and revolt…and retiring." Bourgeois’ family held these elements in lock-stop, that is until her work inextricably broke the seal.



Louise Bourgeois, Arched Figure, 2004
Courtesy Louise Bourgeois and Cheim & Read, New York
Photo: Christopher Burke

Bourgeois’ sculptures and installations use hooks, guillotines and sculptural incisions as flaying devices related to a disruptive past. Bourgeois uses events she saw as a young girl during and after WWI when large numbers of men returned from battle as amputees. Body parts are frequently the subject of her work.


Feminist costume party honoring Louise Bourgeois,
hosted by Mary Beth Edelson and Ana Mendieta, March, 14, 1979
Photo: Courtesy Mary Beth Edelson
©Mary Beth Edelson, 1979. All rights reserved.

As the feminist artist Adrian Piper has said: Louise Bourgeois’ "work draws us into a space where the dynamics of power and surrender, of gender identity, the circumspection of the body, and relation to the mother are unavoidable. It forces us to become aware of our own status as incomplete adults." Bourgeois’ relationship to feminism is best epitomized by events of the late 70s. In fact, in 1979, in response to a call by feminist artist Judy Chicago to women around the country to host feminist dinner parties, artist Mary Beth Edelson invited an unknown Ana Mendieta to co-host a feminist costume party honoring Louise Bourgeois held at Edelson’s SoHo loft. Michelle Stuart and Joyce Kozloff came as the "twin Frida Kahlo’s;" Ana Mendieta as a solo Kahlo; Suzan Cooper dressed as Louise Bourgeois’ mother and Hannah Wilke and Louise Bourgeois came as themselves. Bourgeois brought the champagne.


Louise Bourgeois, The Reticent Child, (Installation), 2003
Courtesy Louise Bourgeois and Cheim & Read, New York
Photo: Christopher Burke


Louise Bourgeois, The Woven Child (page 1), 2003
Fabric and color lithograph book, 6 pages
Courtesy Louise Bourgeois and Cheim & Read, New York
Photo: Christopher Burke

In her current exhibition at her New York gallery, Cheim & Read, entitled The Reticent Child, Louise Bourgeois references a sculpture she created for the Freud Museum in Vienna in 2003, shown here for the first time. As a direct response to this sculpture, Bourgeois completed a suite of 82 drawings called Il était réticent. Mais je l'ai révélé . These drawings range from mixed media to woven grids. The works also relate her memories of the Bievre River that flowed throughout the garden in the house she grew up in Antony, France where the women dyed and cleaned tapestries. A concurrent exhibition at Peter Blum, entitled Ode a l’Oubli, 2004, features 36 pages of a limited edition based on a stitched book Bourgeois recently produced called The Woven Child.



Louise Bourgeois, Almost a Nobody, (cover), 2004
Courtesy Louise Bourgeois and Cheim & Read, New York
Photo: Christopher Burke

Cheryl Kaplan: The Reticent Child features a suite of 18 drawings titled Almost A Nobody. The title recalls Emily Dickinson’s poem: "I’m nobody, who are you?" You’ve said: "Life is organized around what is hollow."

Louise Bourgeois: Almost A Nobody refers to stairs and the idea of climbing to success. I'm interested in people's ambition, their enormous desire to exist in the world, to be somebody, and to succeed — sometimes at any cost.

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